Everything you need to know about Stevia


Stevia is well-known for its exceptional natural sweetness and the fact that it doesn’t contain any kilojoules. stevia is a plant from Paraguay that is found in quite a number of drinks that you find on the market.

What is stevia exactly?

The stevia plant is in the Chrysanthemum family. It has hundreds of different species of the stevia plant, but only one, called Stevia Rebaudiana, contains natural chemicals that make its leaves taste sweet.

Once the stevia leaves mature and reaches their peak sweetness, they are harvested and dried. The dried stevia leaves are soaked in water, filtered, purified, drained and crystalized until only the sweet-tasting molecular compounds remain, the finished ingredient is the sweetener used in many beverages.

Origin of Stevia

This herbaceous perennial plant originates from South America where it was widely used by the Guarani Indians of Paraguay as a medicine, sweetener and sugar substitute. ‘Stevioside’, the chemical which is extracted and purified from the lovely leaves of the plant, is said to be 300 times sweeter than sugar. ‘Stevioside’ is a glucoside, not a carbohydrate and has no calorific value.

What are stevia sweeteners?

Sweeteners made out of stevia are no-calorie sweeteners that are often preferred to sugar they lower one’s intake of added sugars while still providing satisfaction from enjoying the taste of something sweet.

Stevia sweeteners are intensely sweet, ranging from being 200-350 times sweeter than sugar, only small amounts of stevia sweeteners are needed to match the sweetness provided by sugar. Stevia sweeteners can be used by food and beverage manufacturers as an ingredient in beverages, canned fruits, condiments, dairy products and other foods and syrups.

These sweeteners can be used in baked goods. However, a recipe that uses stevia sweeteners in place of sugar needs to cover up the difference in weight that is created, in addition to sweetness, sugar plays several roles related to volume and texture in recipes but varies based on the type of recipe.

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How are stevia sweeteners made?

Stevia sweeteners are made by extracting steviol glycosides from the stevia plant leaves and purifying them to remove some of the bitter attributes found in the crude extract. Steviol glycosides all have a common basic backbone called steviol.

They include compounds like stevioside and many different forms of rebaudioside, the most common of which is rebaudioside A (or reb A). 

Some steviol glycosides are also made through processes called bioconversion

and fermentation, which allows better-tasting and less bitter rebaudioside, such as Reb M, to be produced on a larger scale.

Are stevia sweeteners good for Diabetics?

Foods and beverages made with stevia sweeteners have been recommended to people with diabetes as an alternative to sugar-sweetened foods and beverages and as a way to help these individuals satisfy their desire for sweet taste while managing carbohydrate intake.

Extensive research shows that stevia sweeteners do not raise blood glucose levels or otherwise affect blood glucose management in humans.

 Recent consensus statements by experts in nutrition, medicine, physical activity and public health cite the neutral effects of low-calorie sweeteners on haemoglobin A1C, fasting and post-prandial glucose, and insulin levels and conclude that the use of low-calorie sweeteners in diabetes self-care may contribute to better glycemic management.

Despite these conclusions, some studies raise questions about low-calorie sweeteners and blood glucose management. Some observational studies have demonstrated an association between low-calorie sweetener consumption and risk for type 2 diabetes, however, observational studies do not prove cause and effect.

Conclusions from observational study designs are at risk for reverse causality and confounding. For instance, many studies do not adjust for obesity status, a direct contributor to developing prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. Given that individuals with overweight and obese tend to consume more low-calorie-sweetened beverages as compared with lean individuals,32 this is a critical omission.

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